Balbir Junior, prime participant who lived in Senior’s shadow

Indervir Grewal
Today News Online Service
Chandigarh, April 13

His journey in hockey began like that of many others in Punjab. Born in 1932 in Sansarpur, the ‘Mecca’ of hockey in those times, Balbir Singh Junior was a child when he picked up the hockey stick. And like so many from his village, Balbir Singh Junior went on to play for the country.

The journey that started in the footsteps of his elder brothers reached its pinnacle when Balbir Singh Junior won the silver medal at the 1958 Asian Games. Balbir Singh Junior passed away due to heart failure on Sunday.

Balbir Singh: May 2, 1932-April 11, 2021

  • Balbir Singh Jr was born in Sansarpur village, famous as the nursery of Indian hockey
  • He played alongside legends like Balbir Singh Senior, Leslie Claudius, Prithipal Singh and Balkishan Singh, among others, during the 1950s-1960s
  • Balbir started playing hockey at age six and made his India debut in 1951 during the tour of Afghanistan
  • Joining the Army in 1962 as an emergency commissioned officer, he represented Services too. He retired as a Major in 1984
  • He won a silver medal at the 1958 Asian Games but never got the opportunity to represent the country in the Olympic Games

“He came from a family of hockey players and Army men. His elder brothers played for India. Two of his brothers died in World War II,” said Col Balbir Singh Kular (Retd), who also hails from Sansarpur.

“He was much senior to me and I used to see him train with his brothers at the village ground,” added Kular, who was a member of the team that won bronze at the 1968 Olympics.

Various teams

From training at his village ground, Balbir Singh Junior went on to captain the Panjab University team. He was also part of the Punjab team, which was considered a great achievement in itself at the time. He became a crucial player for Railways before moving to Services. He also managed the Services team before retiring as a Major from the Army and settling in Chandigarh.

“He was a great centre-forward,” said Kular. “He was one of the top performers for Railways who won multiple national titles in the 1950s.”

Though a star in his own right at the national level, Balbir Singh Junior found it difficult to break into the national side. Despite getting his first call-up in 1951, when India toured Afghanistan, he could not cement his place in the side.

Senior vs Junior

“As a centre-forward, his top competition was Balbir Singh Senior,” said Kular. “Had it not been for the great man, Balbir Singh Junior would have played more often for India. In the 1958 Asian Games, he was selected as the backup centre-forward for Balbir Singh Senior but went on to play as the inside-left forward,” he added.

Balbir Singh Junior spent his playing days in the shadow of the legendary Balbir Singh Senior. But for Kular, Balbir Singh Junior’s legacy is much more than his Asian Games medal. “He was not just a great player but a good man as well. He was an inspiration to me and many others like me,” said Kular.

“Four players, including Balbir Singh Junior, from Sansarpur were part of the Asian Games medal winning team. After returning, they received a grand welcome in the village and were honoured. As young hockey players, we dreamed of getting that kind of reception someday,” added Kular.

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